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In this world there exists something that we all have in common and upon which the success of our entire civilization rests. It is the almost magical way in which we communicate and understand each other. Simply said, it is storytelling. Storytelling is a very cool, in media terms, interactive experience between a teller and a listener.
In a sense, many mediums such as novels and television, while they contain stories, are not seen in the same light as 'storytelling' which permits live storytellers the opportunity to morph and change their stories based on the reactions of story listeners. Most of us recognize story in every facet of life. The American writer and psychiatrist Robert Coles expresses that stories, "whether written or heard are an encounter with metaphors that bear on everyday life. " Those of us who are careful listeners come to see people's everyday lives as stories. When speaking to one another we tell our stories, and that the stories we reach out and identify with can help us make choices, find direction, identify morals, and understand our personal lives. (The Call of Story) Anthropologists, psychologists, and historians believe that storytelling has been with us since the beginning of our existence. For thousands of years, as people struggled to survive, they passed on stories of the wisdom and knowledge they accumulated. In early times, storytelling was used to explain significant and often confusing events such as storms, tidal waves, lightening, and fire.
Special types of stories about heroes and gods were used to bind individuals to a common belief system, and moral tales conveyed the first laws that ensured the harmony, cooperation, and ultimately the success of early human populations. (Ebscohost) The stories we are willing to share with one another give our culture its values, beliefs, goals, and traditions. They bring us together into a society, allowing us to work together with a common purpose. Storytelling lives at the heart of human experience. Storytelling is a compelling form of personal communication as ancient as language itself. Since the beginnings of humankind, we have shared through stories the events, beliefs, and values held dear by our families, communities, and cultures. The most important stories we share may be those with family and friends, but all help preserve memory, explain our present, and imagine our future.
Sewn across time, story-threads bind individuals to families and families to society, defining our collective values, beliefs, goals and traditions. Today many people share stories in other contexts such as movies, television shows, letters, books, emails, and documentaries. Storytelling is also helping people expand their cultural views, without stories from other cultures we forget that our culture is not the only way things are done. These new forms of storytelling can get one story across to millions of viewers.
It is uncommon to see movies, or television shows that have just one person telling a story, with a slight exception for show such as the nightly news, that still incorporate visuals. Now the mainstream visual media has plots, characters, and music to make it more entertaining for its viewers. (Call of the Story) Until recently though, documentaries were unnoticed. So except for the nightly news, television was mostly of drama and comedy. Movie theaters rarely showed documentaries and only at film festivals were documentaries available in any kind of volume. It used to be common that documentaries were only part of the elite and educational worlds. Documentaries have been stereotyped; their name alone makes them sound uninteresting, and unappealing, and because the documentary has been considered an education tool, it is difficult to reach some audiences.
The documentary was one form of media people were not buying into. Until now; there has been an explosion of documentary programs on television and cable television. A& E, The History Channel, and The Learning Channel are the most obvious examples, but channels like CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, VH 1, and MTV increasingly rely on documentaries to an extraordinary degree. The four major broadcast networks aren't far behind either.
Newsmagazines are on every night of the week, and also reality television shows such as Big Brother and Survivor have begun to provide a replacement for the traditional drama. So today it seems documentaries are everywhere, but why? (Curran pg 33) Documentary filmmakers strive to tell a strong, often character-driven stories that have a beginning, middle and end, with something at stake, and rising tension, that keeps viewers actively engaged. Unlike dramatists, however, nonfiction filmmakers can't invent characters and plots, but must instead find them in the raw material of real life. "The documentarist has a passion for what he finds in images and sounds, which always seems to him more meaningful than anything he can invent, " wrote media historian Erik Barnouw. "It is in selecting and arranging his findings that he expresses himself. " At the same time, if the film is to be documentary and not propaganda, this creative arrangement must result in work that adheres not only to standards of good storytelling, but also good journalism. (Bakker) Documentary storytelling does not refer only, or even primarily, to films that are narrated. Story helps define documentary and separate it from visual material that simply documents an actual person, place, or event. Recording an event on tape is not a documentary. It is until it has been shaped and given meaning by the filmmaker - until it tells a story in some form - it's not a documentary. (bakker) Understanding stories and documentaries makes it easier to understand why storytelling is being tossed away for a modern visual stimulant, the documentary.
Since technology is advancing at such a rapid rate it is not hard to understand why visual media such as documentaries are so main stream in today's 'I want it all' type of society. These television shows, films, and other forms of visual media such as the documentary, are being designed by directors and producers that know how to affect the psyche of a human being. It has almost become an art. The documentary is becoming a docurama - so to say. If there is any way to get someone to buy into what their trying to sell be it a movie a sitcom or a documentary, they will try it. The producers of documentaries have a much more difficult time reaching the larger scale audiences, and often have trouble getting their films into any type of theatre.
Their films, if they want such publicity, often play on that fine line between documentary and drama. That line can make or break any film that is based upon true events. By telling the story they need to recreate it truthfully. This gets us to the issue of subjectivity. (Curran pg 40 - 52) Like any form of communication, including journalism, documentary filmmaking involves choice-making on the part of the communicator, and is therefore unavoidably subjective, no matter how balanced or neutral the presentation. Which stories are being told, and why? What information or material is included or excluded?
What choices are made concerning style, tone, point of view, and format? In answering these questions, a good documentary filmmaker follows some basic journalistic guidelines. Audiences trust documentaries, and that trust is key to a film's power and relevance. Betray that trust - imply that important events happened in a way that they did not, select only those facts that support your essay, bend the facts for a more "dramatic" story and the form of the film will be lost. This doesn't mean that the producer can't present an overt point of view, or that they can't create work that is determinedly neutral. It means that the argument, or neutrality, need to be accurately grounded. (Bakker) The documentary genre has a range of purposes, from the simple selection and recording of events such as an unedited holiday video to a passionate argument that attempts to persuade the audience into a specific set of opinions (Bowling for Columbine).
Audiences must identify that purpose early on and will therefore know documentary texts differently to fictional narratives. (Book) Here is where storytelling comes into play. It is impossible to have an engaging documentary with out recreation is some aspect, and recreation requires storytelling. The storyteller or the producer has to find the right story and then incorporate actors, music, and his or her creative sense to pull it all together. The documentary, could easily replace the storytellers, who would be in a sense teachers, or professors, in places such as public schools, college class rooms, and even some homes. Storytelling in this information age will not be completely lost, but with man not understanding why storytelling is so important, it is a lot easier for him to neglect it.
Mass Man will be lost into this mass media, getting all his information from the news, and what the television tells him. The documentary might not even interest him anymore because he is so dedicated to reality television that the documentary does not even excite him any longer. (book) Storytelling will probably never be completely lost as long as man has the ability to talk. Human Interaction is essential to functioning in this society. With out a balance of media and interaction, man will have a difficult time understanding his life and will be lost in this media driven world.
Where he learns will no long be from books, journals, or reliable information sources, but will come from the television shows, movies and advertisements he sees on a daily basis. Works Cited Bakker, Kees. "The Good, The Bad, and The Documentary. " Documentary Box # 24. 2004. 7 May 2005. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Ebscohost.
Kingwood Col. Lib. , Kingwood. 9 Aug. 2004. Curran Bernard, Shelia. Documentary Storytelling: The Drama of Real Life. New York, Signet. 2002. The Call of Story. 8 May 2005.
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Research essay sample on Storytelling Lost To The Documentary